Media General News Service
MANASSAS The Marumsco Hills Elementary school teacher who says she accidentally brought her loaded gun to school was convicted Tuesday, and could spend a year in jail.
A Prince William jury recommended that Deena Esteban, 43, of Lake Ridge, spend 12 months behind bars and pay a $2500 fine for possession of a firearm on school property.
Circuit Court Judge Frank K. Hoss will decide whether to uphold the penalty at a January 4 sentencing.
Esteban testified that she brought her .38 caliber revolver into the Woodbridge school by accident, after hiding it in a yellow and black canvas bag while her parents were visiting two days earlier.
On March 6, Esteban brought the bag, which also contained money and a check book, to a physically handicapped art class she taught and left it in the room afterward. Susan Tomsko, another teacher, foun d the bag lying on the floor just a few feet from childrens desks.
Tomsko said she was stunned after unzipping the bag, seeing the gun and reading the name on the check book.
I was in shock, she testified. I didnt know what to do.
The incident occurred near the end of the day, with no administrators in the building. Tomsko returned the bag to Esteban, who was still in the building, and told her youve got to get it out of here.
Tomsko and two assistant teachers later reported the incident to school administrators.
Police went to Estebans home to get the gun that evening, and Prince William Schools placed her on administrative leave the next day. Estebans contract was not renewed in June. She later filed a federal lawsuit over the process by which she lost her job, but the judge sided with the school system. She has not taught since.
The jury returned its guilty verdict only 25 minutes after the last witness testified, but spent nearly two hours determining a recommended sentence. The offense carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Midway through sentence deliberations, the jury asked the judge if they could impose a suspended sentence to show how important they felt the crime to be, without having Esteban spend time behind bars. The jury, however, can recommend a sentence, but only a judge can suspend it.
Richard Gardiner, Estebans attorney, argued against jail time.
No matter what you do today, he said to the jury, shes already been severely punished for what was essentially an accident… that anybody could make.
Assistant Commonwealths attorney Jerrold Negin disagreed.
She essentially abandoned a loaded firearm in a room of elementary school children who can be adventurous and inquisitive.
Following the verdict, both Esteban, with tears streaming down her face, and Gardiner declined to comment.
Keith McMillan is a staff writer with the Potomac News in Woodbridge